Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923

 

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1st page of the 1st issue of THE GRAMOPHONE (now over a thousand issues young), Apr. 1923. From the digital archive.

SEPTEMBER 9th 2018 — This entry inaugurates a tradition I plan to follow in the future:

The following of a number of threads like this, with the intention to see where they lead and what light they throw upon my special interests in life. This is far from the only “Let’s” series I have in mind.

THE GRAMOPHONE magazine was founded in Great Britain in 1923 by Compton Mackenzie, novelist, critic, actor, and gardener, along with London editor Christopher Stone. For many decades it covered all music released on record, unlike today, when it is solely dedicated to classical music.

This earlier orientation means it is quite a comprehensive bible to music of all genres released in those several decades. Combined with Spotify, it makes for a wonderful resource and guide into the music of times past.

Let’s see where the first issue takes us. You can find all these back issues as part of the digital archive available at least on iOS and other platforms as well. As a dedicated Apple user these days, I do most things in iOS.

A word of caution, however: I will be commenting only upon pieces of music that interest me at the particular time that I write my entries. There is a lot of more than worthy music that I will pass by. I just want to comment on some.

* * *

The time is April 1923.

One thing that these classic issues have to offer is a use of English now largely lost. While there are attitudes that will justly strike a modern reader as awful and harsh, there are also graces and subtleties that no modern publication can offer. The use of language is often rich and luxurious.

Of all the recordings mentioned in this issue, it would be hard not to place at the top the one by violinists Kreisler and Zimbalist of Bach’s CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS. This can be found on Spotify in three parts: I. VIVACE. II. LARGO. III. ALLEGRO. This is music with a guilelessness perhaps almost wholly unfamiliar to most modern musicmakers.

Chopin’s NOCTURNE NO. 19 IN E MINOR, Op. 72 No. 1, played by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, is referenced. This wonderful piece is also available on Spotify.

Let’s learn some music theory:

E minor means that the piece is in the key of E minor. That means it follows the modern minor scale, which works like this (every half step is a step towards the next key on the piano keyboard, whether a black or white key, and every whole step is two steps on the piano keyboard, whether black or white keys):

Starting from the root note, in this case E, it follows this pattern ascending up the scale:

E, whole step (F#), half step (G), whole step (A), whole step (B), half step (C), whole step (D), whole step (E), arriving at another E.

Every minor scale in modern music follows this same pattern of whole and half steps.

So the only difference between modern minor scales is which root note they start from. The relationship between the notes of the scale is exactly the same in all minor scales. The same is true of all major scales, but I will come to that later.

In this way you can construct any modern minor scale in any key. You simply pick the root note (any white or black key on the piano or other similar keyboard) and follow this pattern of steps:

root W H W W H W W

You can also start on any of the black keys, and sharps and flats are added to the basic note names as needed.

A sharp is simply the next note above, whether a black or white key, from the default form of the note, and a flat is simply the next note below, again whether a black or white key.

Thus C# or C sharp is the black key between C and D, and Cb or C flat is the white note below C — in other words, B. Pairs like Cb and B, which actually refer to the selfsame note, are called enharmonic notes.

But enough theory for now. To conclude, the Chopin NOCTURNE IN E MINOR is called that because it takes E as its root and fundamental note and is in the minor key, so it uses primarily the seven notes of the E minor scale (or eight if you count the E above also).

Few of the early Wagner records mentioned in these early issues are on Spotify. Perhaps needless to say, Wagner dipped for his RING cycle into the well of myths first or only written down in Iceland — the Eddic sagas.

But though these are not on Spotify, I want to cite here the titles — evocative on their own — given for some Wagner recordings in this issue. In the following, Wotan = Óðinn / Odin.

 

DAS RHEINGOLD (THE RHINEGOLD)

“Alberich steals the gold: The dawn over Valhalla”

“The descent to Nibelheim: Capture of Alberich”

“The entry of the gods into Valhalla”

 

DIE WALKÜRE (THE VALKYRIE)

“Prelude: Siegmund seeks shelter from the storm (Act I)”

“Siegmund sees the sword hilt in the tree”

“Siegmund greets the spring night”

“Siegmund draws out his sword”

“Introduction: Brünnhilde’s battle cry”

“Wotan warns Brünnhilde not to disobey”

“Brünnhilde foretells Siegmund’s death”

“Introduction: Ride of the Valkyries”

“Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the broken sword”

“Brünnhilde implores the protection of fire”

“Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde”

“Wotan kisses Brünnhilde into a deep slumber”

“The rock is surrounded by fire: Finale of opera”

Still on the subject of Iceland:

  • “A Review of the First Quarter of 1923” by the Editor mentions “THE SONG OF THE VIKING GUEST” sung by Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (p. 16). This early cylinder recording is available on Spotify. The song is from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera SADKO (premiered in Moscow in 1898).
  • The Zonophone ad in this issue (p. VI) lists singer Foster Richardson, with orchestra, performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “THE VIKING SONG”. This, however, is not on Spotify.

Also mentioned in this Zonophone ad, as well as in the Editor’s review of the first quarter (p. 16), is the lovely Elizabethan song, “DRINK TO ME ONLY WITH THINE EYES”, recorded for example by Johnny Cash in much later days.


Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923”:

This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

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